IBM's apparent actions in the case of TurboHercules have caused enormous anger in the open source community.
Having been the target of angry people myself from time to time, I know such things can be hard to stop.
Fortunately, IBM seems to have a friend in Jim Zemlin (right), executive director of the Linux Foundation.
Zemlin yesterday gave IBM a chance to respond on his blog. Dan Frye, vice president of open systems development at IBM and a Linux Foundation board member, accepted it.
Frye wrote to Zemlin that the company's 2005 pledge has not been violated. "IBM stands by this 2005 Non-Assertion Pledge today as strongly as it did then. IBM will not sue for the infringement of any of those 500 patents by any Open Source Software."
Our friends at ZDNet UK did some follow-up and found a bit of qualification on the pledge from an IBM spokesman.
"In 2005, when IBM announced open access to 500 patents that we own, we said the pledge is applicable to qualified open-source individuals or companies," said an IBM spokesperson. "We have serious questions about whether TurboHercules qualifies. TurboHercules is a member of organisations founded and funded by IBM competitors such as Microsoft to attack the mainframe. We have doubts about TurboHercules' motivations."
The old dangling qualifier trick, claims Alan Shimel of Network World., and Mueller, who started the controversy, agrees. Qualified is a word IBM can define for itself, he told our Tom Espiner.
As I wrote yesterday, the issue here does not appear to be the Hercules emulator itself, but TurboHercules, which is seeking to profit from it. But is the IBM pledge one between equals, taken within an industry, or is it a concession only to hobbyists?
IBM might indeed be right on the law here, but I still wonder how the community will react, and whether an over-reaction might hit IBM defenders like Zemlin. Once the mob starts marching it's hard for even a sheriff to turn them away.